Thinking about signature pedagogies

24 March 2014

The article on ‘Signature pedagogies in the professions’ (Shulman, 2005) suggests that the professions–of law, accounting, and medicine–are underpinned by stereotypical ‘styles’ of teaching. These styles can be categorised by their form of instruction, their dimensions, and their temporal patterns. Shulman goes on to argue that change in those styles is likely to come about only through material change in the profession or radical change in the teaching technologies.

Before, I reflect of how my role as a teacher might be influenced by my disciplinary background, I think it would be useful to put Shulman’s article in to some context.

Shulman has looked at what might be regarded as the classic professions. These professions have achieved social closure (Freidson, 2001). That is to say, profession has achieved the legal right to regulate the profession. For example, NZICA–the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants–determines who might or might not call themselves a Chartered Accountants; likewise the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand determines who might or might call themselves a Chartered Engineer. These professional bodies also regulate and police the profession more general. As a consequence, for example, NZICA specifies what must be taught in an undergraduate degrees for graduates to become Chartered Accountants. Indeed, much–if not most–of the teaching of accounting students is done my staff who are themselves members of NZICA, many of whom have significant positions within NZICA. This situation that the professions have achieved vis-á-vis the control of their work, is in many ways unique (von Nordenflycht, 2010).

Many of the issues raised in the article can be accounted for through processes such as isomorphism (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983) or through the heterogeneous knowledge requirements that the professions exhibit (Malhotra & Morris, 2009).

Therefore, one needs to question the applicability of if the conceptualisation of signature pedagogies and their resilience to pedagogical change beyond the ‘serving sciences’ (Greenwood, 1957; Powell, Brock, & Hinings, 1999) of the law, medicine, accounting, , and engineering.

Setting those concerns aside, what might the form of instruction, their dimensions, and their temporal patterns within my particular discipline of strategic management (Cox, Daspit, McLaughlin, & Jones III, 2012). Having said that, the topic of strategy is still contested and some (see, for example, Pettigrew, 1992) still regard it as being pre-paradigmatic (Kuhn, 1996). Indeed, even its parent discipline of organisational studies is still engaging in ‘paradigm wars’ (Scherer & Steinmann, 1999). This contestation is clearly illustrated in Strategy Safari which presents ten schools of thought found in strategy (Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, & Lampel, 1998).

Forms of instruction

There are three forms of instruction that prevalent in strategic management. They are (1) case-based teaching, (2) lecturing, and (3) the use of business/strategy simulations. Other forms are utilised, such as team-based learning, or case competitions, but these are more marginally employed. In case-based teaching assessment occurs through the public demonstration of one’s skill in strategic thinking and oral argumentation. Likewise, with simulations there is also a public exhibition of skill that often includes the ones ability to work as a team. For most of the other forms of instruction assessment is typified by the more private form of written case analysis.


There are two deep structures found within strategic management. The first relates to the notion of the CEO as the heroic strategist, as typified by the work of Andrews (1971) or Ohmae (1982). These deep structure are–especially in American schools of thought–predicated on quantitative analysis.

The implicit dimensions relate to the classic debate in the field as to shareholders versus stakeholders. This debate also plays out in regard to what is valued: profit rather than corporate social responsibility; advocates of the former often entirely ignoring the later.

There is also a debate around the degree to which strategy should/can be planned and the extent to which it is emergent.

Temporal patterns

Given the lack of control of the ‘profession’ by the discipline, it is perhaps unsurprising that many practitioners of strategy may entirely bypass any discipline based education. Instead they may acquire learning through experience, or through practitioner orientated publiciations. If there is a temporal pattern, it would be in relation to MBA programmes. The original pattern was that non-managerial graduates would undertake an MBA to provide them with their business, and strategic ‘chops’. Often then moving in to areas such as strategy of financial consulting.

There is, nevertheless, this is some disquiet in some areas regarding the signature pedagogies as exemplified by books such as ‘Managers not MBAs’ (Mintzberg, 2003).


Andrews, K. R. (1971). The concept of corporate strategy. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin.

Cox, M. Z., Daspit, J., McLaughlin, E., & Jones III, R. J. (2012). Strategic management: Is it an academic discipline? Journal of Business Strategies, 29(1), 25–42.

DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147–160.

Freidson, E. (2001). Professionalism, the third logic: On the practice of knowledge. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Greenwood, E. (1957). Attributes of a profession. Social Work, 2, 45–55.

Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Malhotra, N., & Morris, T. (2009). Heterogeneity in professional service firms. Journal of Management Studies, 46(6), 895–922. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2009.00826.x

Mintzberg, H. (2003). Managers not MBAs: A hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development. San Francisco: Berren-Kochler.

Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B. W., & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy safari: A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management. New York: Free Press.

Ohmae, K. (1982). The mind of the strategist: The art of Japanese management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Pettigrew, A. M. (1992). The character and significance of strategy process research. Strategic Management Journal, 13, 5–16. doi:10.1002/smj.4250130903

Powell, M. J., Brock, D. M., & Hinings, C. R. (1999). The changing professional organization. In D. M. Brock, M. J. Powell, & C. R. Hinings (Eds.), Restructuring the professional organization: Accounting, health care and law. London: Routledge.

Scherer, A. G., & Steinmann, H. (1999). Some remarks on the problem of incommensurability in organization studies. Organization Studies, 20(3), 519–535.

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52–59. doi:10.11620011526054622015

Von Nordenflycht, A. (2010). What is a professional service firm? Toward a theory and taxonomy of knowledge-intensive firms. Academy of Management Review, 35(1), 155–174. doi:10.5465/AMR.2010.45577926